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Local treasures buffed for fest debuts

History sidebar to highlight pix that haven't been seen for at least a decade

HOLLYWOOD — Forget Fellini — this year, the 61st Venice Film Festival is shining a spotlight on those directors who have faded from Italian screens.

Although their films have been forgotten by many, the genre directors who will be featured in the festival’s sidebar the Secret History of the Italian Cinema: Kings of the B’s (1960-1980) have influenced filmmakers from Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino to Roger Corman protege Joe Dante. “I’ve stolen from a variety of these pictures through my whole career,” says Dante with a laugh. Dante and Tarantino will serve as “godfathers” for the retrospective.

The sidebar, which will highlight 25 films, has been curated with an eye toward artistically important pictures that haven’t been seen for at least a decade.

The lineup will touch on everything from spaghetti Westerns to slasher pictures to gothic horror films, and includes Antonio Margheriti’s “Castle of Blood,” Lucio Fulci’s “Don’t Torture a Duckling” and Umberto Lenzi’s “Paranoia.”

Tarantino and Dante will also each have a “surprise” screening evening. According to Venice festival topper Marco Muller, Tarantino’s will include “some lost jewels from (Fernando) Di Leo and others.” Of Dante’s night, he will only say, “It is going to (feature) a wider palette.”

The sidebar is the beginning of a larger, four-year “recovery, restoration, and systematic rediscovery of Italian cinema” program, says Muller, that is being endowed in part by the Prada Foundation.

For the festival, many of the films have been restored via a high def digital process, and more will continue to be updated that way. In Italy, the films will also be distributed in Italy on homevideo, and shown in digital repertory theaters.

Muller also notes, “We have the right to show them at various cultural events around the world.”

Dante, a lifelong film buff whose discovery of Mario Bava — whose films will also be in the sidebar — led him to other Italian genre filmmakers, says the movies have affected him deeply.

“It’s a very specific look you get with Italian genre films. … There’s a lot of imagery that burns its way into your head and you’re not even conscious when it comes out in your work.”

Tarantino, who discovered Di Leo’s work as a video-store clerk, has said, “I owe Fernando a great deal in terms of passion and filmmaking,” and explains, “the thing I like about (his) characters is that they’re real delinquent sons-of-bitches but never standardized or fake figures. … There’s always an underlying irony.”

The sidebar is generating great interest among the international film community. A long list of professionals will be attending the retrospective, including director Guillermo del Toro. Adding to the excitement is the fact that many of the retrospective’s filmmakers will be on hand as well. “All of the directors who are still alive will appear on stage,” says Muller. “I was hoping to create this kind of interest,” he adds, “and it worked.”